Find the Romans in France

Ever since I first discovered the area round Arles I’ve hoped that one day this part of France will catch on with Classics teachers.

Rome in France
4:00AM Friday Nov 28, 2008
By Jim Eagles

If you want to see the world’s best preserved Roman amphitheatre, temple and aqueduct bridge then, surprisingly enough, you head not for Rome but for Provence.

Which is why, despite having been in Rome a few days earlier, we decided to take a Roman Sites Tour out of Avignon.

The focal point of the tour – and one of France’s top five tourist attractions – was the extraordinary 2000-year-old Pont du Gard.

This is a stone bridge, 275m long and 49m high, which carries both a roadway and an aqueduct across the River Gardon.

It is a remarkable piece of work, both magnificent to look at, with its three tiers of stone arches, and an exceptionally clever example of construction, having been built entirely without cement.

It is also, of course, part of one of the typically amazing pieces of infrastructure built by the Romans, an aqueduct 50km long to carry water from a spring near the town of Uzes to the city of Nimes.

Uzes, which our tour also visited, doesn’t have much Roman significance but it is a gloriously untouched medieval town and home to the premier dukes and hereditary champions of France. The ducal palace, in the centre of town, looks fascinating but sadly we couldn’t get inside because we hadn’t – in the words of the marvellously superior custodian – “made an appointment in advance”.

Nimes, on the other hand, is full of 2000-year-old Roman buildings still in remarkably good condition.

The amphitheatre, for instance, with its seating for 24,000 spectators, is still used regularly for concerts, in fact they were setting up the sound equipment for one as we wandered around.

And the temple built by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, and dedicated to his two sons, is still in good enough condition to be used for a remarkable multimedia presentation about the turbulent history of Nimes.

Seeing all of this I couldn’t help wondering how many of today’s bridges, watermains, sports stadiums and churches will still be going strong in 2000 years time.

Caesar and the pirates – lessons for Somalia today

Thought Leader (South Africa)

Combating Somali piracy … Roman style

In the year 75BC, Gaius Julius Caesar, citizen of the great Roman Empire was sailing on a Roman battle trireme in the Mediterranean when pirates attacked the ship. Caesar was captured and ransomed, as was the practice back then. Legend has it that the great man was not impressed when the pirates decided to bill his family in Rome only 20 gold talents, a massive fortune at that time. He felt his worth was at least double that and demanded that they increase the ransom. The pirates, being men of commerce, obliged and were duly paid 50 talents of gold for their skulduggery.

Upon being released after spending 40 days in the dark, damp underbelly of the pirates’ ship, Caesar warned the pirates that he would return, hunt them down and kill them all. One can presume that the pirates all broke out into merry, drunken laughter and probably dumped him rather unceremoniously on the deserted shoreline, leaving him with a fairly long distance to walk to the nearest town and an even longer voyage back to Rome and his home estate outside the city. To be fair, they probably had no idea who they were dealing with.

Unfortunately for these particular pirates, Caesar, being Caesar, raised a fleet, hunted down the men that took him captive and exacted his revenge in true Roman fashion; he boarded their vessel with his legionaries, cut down anyone who resisted and crucified anyone who was left. It was the beginning of a rout that Caesar’s great rival Pompey finished emphatically by crushing pirates across the Mediterranean and clearing the routes of trade for the Empire.

It is perhaps interesting to note how the Romans achieved this, particularly since the world is once again facing the vexing problems that Caesar, Pompey, Cicero and their piers faced over two millennia ago.

Firstly, they assembled a great fleet and sent them out with orders to engage and destroy pirates wherever they found them.

Secondly, and more importantly, the Romans knew that to remove the threat posed by pirates at sea, you have to cut them off from their home base on the land. With this principle in mind, Rome invaded Illiria in 68BC, home base of the most prolific and successful piracy in the Adriatic, and effectively stamped the problem out.

Two thousand years have passed and once again the ocean trade routes of the great empires of the world are increasingly threatened by piracy. The epicentre of the current plundering is Somalia where pirates all but control the Gulf of Aden. At least 12 ships are currently under the control of pirates. This year alone has seen 67 attacks with 26 successful hijackings so far in this area alone. In short, it is reaching epidemic proportions and shows no sign of letting up.

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Veni Vidi Verulamium

I can’t envisage, from this account, exactly how the high-tech guided tour will work, but I’m all for new ways of bringing the ancient R. to life for the ‘virtual’ generation.

Herts Advertiser

How tourists will be able to conquer the Romans
15:00 – 25 November 2008

JULIUS Caesar came, saw and conquered – and now St Albans Museums are hoping that a new mobile guide can do the same for Roman Verulamium.

A grant of £50,000 has been secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other partners for the Veni Vidi Verulamium project which uses mobile multimedia information and educational tours to promote understanding of Roman Verulamium

Accessed using a hand-held device, Veni Vidi Verulamium will make the hidden remains of Rome visible using images, plans, oral histories and archaeological remains.

Visitors will be able to link the artefacts in Verulamium Museum to their original locations of excavation in the park.

The new mobile guide is due be launched in May next year to help celebrate the 70th anniversary of the opening of Verulamium Museum. Eight different tours will be available to cater for a range of audiences, each lasting up to 30 minutes, bringing Roman Britain to life through the eyes of Roman inhabitants and archaeologists.

Cllr Melvyn Teare, the council’s portfolio holder for culture and heritage, said: “For the first time, specialist information will be brought together to create a unique experience for the visitor who wants to step back in time and understand Roman Verulamium.”

And Robyn Llewellyn, the head of the Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: “This fantastic project will really bring the museum’s collections to life for everyone to explore.”

Local businesses are invited to be part of the project by helping with some final match funding. The museum is seeking a further £25,000 and anyone wishing to sponsor or donate to the project is asked to contact Mike Gray at the Verulamium Museum Trust on 01727 751816 or email Mike.Gray@stalbans.gov.uk